The following post was written by Jennifer Hutchinson, the Foodbank’s Youth Programs Manager.  I encourage you to share this blog with your friends, family, coworkers.  November is “Pack till They’re Back” month at food banks around the country.  Help us raise awareness that childhood hunger is a real issue in our community and is completely unacceptable.

I have worked for the Vermont Foodbank now since 2005. In 2007, I took on the position of Youth Programs Manager.  At the time no such position existed at the Foodbank, so I had my work cut out for me. That year the Foodbank had decided to add three new youth feeding programs, one of them was the BackPack Program, which provides children with packs of healthy, child friendly foods to take home over the weekend and during school vacations.  This was quiet an undertaking and required a lot of training but I was inspired and had a strong sense of pride about the new projects on my plate.   In a few short months and with the guidance of some pretty amazing people at other food banks, we had everything in place logistically to start incorporating the new feeding programs into the work that we were doing at the Foodbank.
We introduced the BackPack program to 6 schools our first year and set out to send home bags of food over the weekends to 150 students. As I said, logistically everything was in place. Managing the program over the first year went well, and I was proud to tell everyone I met what I did for a living. I felt lucky to have a job that I could be proud of and that was so fulfilling. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would learn about what it really means to a child to be hungry. As I worked with school counselors and teachers, school nurses and food service providers I started to realize that this was about more than just having a successful program; it was about feeding kids. It started to sink in that this was not just a about sending home bags of food it was about providing food to kids who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend. It was about ensuring kids could look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks because they didn’t have to worry about what they were going to eat.  I have children and it didn’t take me long to start thinking “what on earth would I do and how would I feel if I couldn’t provide all that I wanted to for my kids.” I learned that this type of pressure on a family – the constant worry about how you’re going to make your food last – can be devastating.  So needless to say this job has taken me on a journey that I did not expect.  I’ve been completely humbled.

We are now in our fourth year of the BackPack program and currently provide packs of food to more than 500 children each week at fifteen different schools all throughout Vermont. Together our youth feeding programs provide food to 1,200 to 1,500 children per week. The program is still a great success, and the job is still incredibly fulfilling and I must say the journey continues. Each week I hear stories that bring me to tears, and each week I am filled with a great sense of pride.  No parent ever wants their child to go hungry and no parent ever anticipates being in a situation where they might need to seek out help. Thankfully there are many incredible programs run by compassionate people who are ready to help when needed.

BackPack is a program of Feeding America and is generously supported nationally by the  C&S Wholesale Grocers Community. In Vermont this program is made possible through the generous support of the Rona Jaffe Foundation, Bufka Foundation, Ameriprise Financial, Target, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Turrell Fund, Vermont Country Store, The Ted and Carol Kramer Charitable Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC.